Omega Fields

  • Fun With Feed Math! Part 3: Ulcers: Is Your Horse Stressed

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    The last article briefly discussed the horse’s gastrointestinal system and the challenge it presents to feeding management. This month we will discuss a specific disorder, equine gastric ulcer syndrome. Just like us, horses can suffer from painful gastric ulcers which can lower their performance ability, and certainly their overall health and well being. Due to their unique physiology they may be even more susceptible to ulcers than other domestic animals. Symptoms of ulcers include decreased feed intake, lowered performance, a rough hair coat, laying down excessively or even grinding their teeth.

    GI Tract Again

    When wondering why horses seem to be so prone to ulcers, it is important to really think about what their digestive anatomy is designed to do. In the stomach of the equine, there are two regions, a glandular region which secretes hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, and a non-glandular region in the upper or proximal part of the horse’s stomach. The mucosal cells of the horses glandular portion are well suited to protect against the acids that would normally be present in the horse’s stomach. However, the cells in the non-glandular region are not as protective, and repeated exposure to digestive acids can result in creation of lesions in the stomach. Now normally, this is not a large problem for the grazing horse. When a horse is eating continually, they will be constantly producing saliva with buffers that serve to increase the pH in the horse’s stomach, and prevent any damage to the mucosa. When horses are not eating, no saliva enters the stomach, and the pH begins to drop. This can occur within 5-6 post eating. As stated last month, if your horse remains without feed for 10 hours, his stomach will be completely empty, and the pH drops even lower. Foals are especially susceptible, and any foal that goes off feed due to illness may end up with a secondary problem of ulcers. Look for your foal to be grinding their teeth or lying on their back. These are classic signs of ulcers in foals.

    Is Grain the Problem?We also see an increase in ulcer prevalence in horses that are on high grain diets. Now this may actually be due to a combination of factors, which we will see soon. But high concentrate feeding itself can be a culprit. When horse’s are fed concentrates, either in the form of pelleted or whole grains, the amount of time a horse will relatively spend consuming that feed will be less than that on long stem forage. It simply takes less “chews” to eat a pound of grain vs a pound of hay. Less chews equal less saliva production as well as a longer interval between the next feeding (ie he finishes faster). In addition, concentrates themselves cause production of a different type of volatile fatty acid production in the stomach. While the hind gut was long considered the sole domain of fermenting bacteria in the equine, we now know that isn’t true. Microbes do indeed exist in the stomach of the horse, and some types will flourish on a higher grain diet. This particular bacteria result in production of more acidic waste products, which further decrease your horse’s stomach pH.
    What Else is Going Wrong?As I said earlier, it may be incorrect to point the finger solely at feeding horses high amounts of concentrates. After all, what types of horses consume large amounts of concentrate? Hopefully you remember from our earlier series which types of horses need high amounts of Mcals. These are typically heavily working performance horses that need the grain in the diet to meet their caloric needs. But what else is unique about these guys? One, they are exercising more, which in itself may help contribute to the problem. When horses are galloping, the abdominal contents of the horse are essentially “squished” forward as the hind legs reach up under the horse prior to the forelegs reaching back forward. This forces the more acidic contents of the glandular portion of the horse’s stomach up into the less well-protected non-glandular region.Secondly, performance horses are frequently stalled individually. It is simply a fact of the matter that these horses must be kept blemish free and protected from too much rough play with others. Some horses even have an aptitude to hurt themselves when playing on their own too vigorously. However, stalling can be a source of mental stress for horses, as it eliminates their natural tendency for continual movement throughout the day, as well as their foraging behavior. It also removes the horse from its natural desire to be a herd animal. Horses in the wild are never seen in isolation, unless they are sick or injured. Therefore, isolation can be extremely stressful for some horses.

    Another leading cause of ulcers is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS. These drugs block an enzyme necessary in the pathway that produces prostaglandins that cause inflammation. However, as these drugs are not specific for blocking production of only one type of prostaglandin, they also block formation of the prostaglandins which help maintain gastric mucosal integrity and are anti-inflammatory. Therefore, long term use of NSAIDS can almost certainly cause ulcers in horses, and is typically avoided unless necessary. However, the rigors of training and exercise may cause theses horses to be provided NSAIDS more frequently than horses in only light or recreational riding.

    Even the career of your horse may be stressful. Racehorses have a much higher incidence of ulcers than other types of performance horses, but again this could be attributed to many factors: high concentrate diets, stalling, exercise etc. Even transport has been reported as ulcer inducing. In a group of thoroughbreds, transport for 6 hours was reported to increase the prevalence of lesions in the stomach, however this was not observed in western performance horses. I would propose that simply the personality of the horse plays a large role. Is your horse a fretter and a worrier or one that could happily march through a parade without batting an eye? After all, ulcers are more common in us type A individuals than our more laidback neighbors!

    Prevention.One of the easiest ways to control the incidence of ulcers in horses is to alter our management strategies. Feeding horses at more frequent intervals, or providing meals of long stem forage at an amount to prevent an absence of feed availability is ideal. That may mean spreading out the feeding interval to 12 hours or by providing your horse with a larger evening meal to last closer to breakfast. Also consider the type of feed you are using. Long stem forage will cause a horse to chew for a longer period of time, compared to pelleted rations. Horses that are on complete feed are especially more likely to be “out of feed” for a longer period of time unless your horse is a committed nibbler. Even horses on complete feeds due to loss of teeth can benefit with the offering of hay to munch on in between feedings.We can also try to decrease the stress level of horses, which may be easier said than done. After all, what is stressful for one individual may not be for another. Look for behavioral signs that let you know your horse needs more turnout time or more social contact. Try to reduce the stress of trailering by making sure your horse is trained to load easily and travel quietly. Make sure you are not a stressful driver either, taking corners too sharp or braking too suddenly!

    There is also some limited research that suggests that the type of hay fed to horses may alter the incidence of ulcers. Horses on an alfalfa based diet relative to a grass hay diet appear to have lower incidence of ulcers. It is unknown whether this may be due to the protein or calcium content of the hay.

    Alternative to NSAIDSMuch research in both humans and horses has been aimed at dietary interventions to prevent inflammation. The use of omega-3 fatty acids has been repeatedly shown to decrease inflammation in humans, and has had some promising use in horses as well. Addition of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet helps to block production of arachidonic acid, which is a producer of inflammatory thromboxanes, prostaglandins etc. Thus, use of adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may lessen the need for use of NSAIDS as therapy in the performance horse. In addition, polyunsaturated fatty acids may be able to help protect against gastric ulcers. In rats given dexamethasone to induce ulceration, a diet high in PUFA helped to suppress ulcers and maintained the normal lipid bilayer in the gastric mucosa. Furthermore, addition of omega 3 fatty acids may lower the stress experienced by horses as measured by cortisol production (a hormone related to stress). In mares provided with an omega-3 fatty acid source, cortisol levels were lower than controls following a period of stall confinement used to induce stress. Thus, while not proven to be a direct preventative of ulcer formation in horses, there is much promising data to indicate the effectiveness of omega 3 fatty acids as a dietary aid.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat, strong solid hooves, and top performance – and for clear and consise labels – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • The Making of an Animal Person

    Written By Barbara O'Brien



    By Barbara O'Brien, Animal Actor Trainer and Photographer
    - Omega Fields® Advisor and Spokesperson

    Some people just know. They know right from the start that life without animals is just not possible.

    Oh my parents tried all right. They refused all of my requests for a cat or dog or most of all, a horse. They explained over an over again, in patient quiet tones that my older brother was allergic to fur and having a horse in the city of South St. Paul Minnesota was not only against city ordinances but also not very practical. What would it eat? Where would you keep it?

    This made no sense at all to my five-year-old mind. Couldn’t I keep a cat confined to my room? Surely I could keep my nosy siblings out. And even though our back yard was small, couldn’t we fence it and let the horse graze, as long as it stayed out of the garden? And as for my brother’s allergies to hair and fur, couldn’t he just not breathe if the dog was around?

    So it began, my childish attempts at secret pet ownership and my parents half-hearted attempts to appease me with trips to the zoo and visits to my uncle’s farm. The zoo was okay but I couldn’t touch the animals and I didn’t want any of them for a pet. I loved my Uncle’s farm but we only got to visit him once a year since he lived so far away and for an animal-crazy kid, that was not near enough.

    It wasn’t until a few years later, on that one glorious day, when a stray cat ventured into my yard and began rubbing against my legs, that I thought all of my wishes had come true. I bent down to pet this wonder, a friendly well-behaved cat, who stayed right at my feet and was letting me pet him. Amazing! The cats on my Uncle’s farm were skittish and ran away at the sight of us and they also scratched and bit, which I had learned the hard way, when cornered. But this cat, with his handsome gray tabby striped coat and white chest and paws seemed to truly like me. His whole body vibrated with his throaty purr and he arched his back and raised his tail as I stroked him.

    I asked him his name and when he didn’t say I decided to name him Jerry after the clever mouse from the Tom and Jerry cartoon. I asked him if he wanted to be my cat forever and ever and he completely agreed. I scanned the street and side yards making sure there was no one looking for him and then tucked him into my jacket and snuck him into my room.

    I stashed him in my closet and quickly closed the bedroom door behind me as I headed to the kitchen to find him some food. One of my older sisters eyed me suspiciously for a moment and then went back to her portable hi-fi, turning up “Hey Jude” even louder than before.

    I climbed onto the counter opened the cupboard door and looked at the possibilities. Cheerios, noodles, cake mix. None of these looked like things a cat would eat. And….. definitely not Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Even I wouldn’t eat that. Then I spied it. It’s bright red label with the long silver fish leaping from a mountain stream shone like a beacon in the dark recess of the cupboard. Salmon! All cats like fish, especially premium red sockeye salmon from wild Alaskan streams.

    I would have to be careful. We all knew the salmon was off limits. It was my mother’s special treat that she would occasionally have for lunch with slices of lemon and saltine crackers. She would always share it with me since we were the only ones who liked it. It was our special little thing together in a house full of brothers and sisters vying for her attention.

    I stuck the can of salmon under my shirt and grabbed a can opener out of the drawer, along with two small bowls from the dish rack. It was then my other older sister came in the door and saw me sliding off the counter to the floor.

    She demanded to know what was I doing. I quickly turned to hide the evidence and darted out, pretending not to hear. Thankfully she didn’t come after me as I ran down the hallway and into my room.

    I waited for my heart to stop pounding and listened to make sure the coast was clear. My dad was at work and I could see my two brothers out in the yard, both of my older sisters were now in the kitchen singing along to the “Beatles” and my Mom was hanging clothes out on the line. Relieved that no one would bother me for a while, I opened the can and scooped some salmon into one of the bowls. I had forgotten a spoon so I used my fingers and licked them clean to cover my crime.

    Jerry began to meow and started to scratch the closet door. He jumped out when I slid the door open and made a beeline to the salmon. He began to gulp it down like he hadn’t eaten in days and only stopped for moment when I left to get him some water. I filled the other bowl in the bathroom sink and pushed both bowls and Jerry under my bed in case someone decided to come in.

    After Jerry had eaten his dinner I tucked him back in to the closet for safekeeping. Not wanting to draw attention I went out to play with my brothers and didn’t go back to my room until it was time for bed.

    Jerry was catnapping when I opened the closet and happily leaped onto my bed like he belonged there. I turned out my light and brought him under the covers close to my chest. He rumbled with pleasure and as I petted him. I caressed his silky ears and scratched him under his chin. He rolled over on his back as I massaged his belly and ran my fingers through his thick velvety fur.

    How heavenly to have a cat for my very own. Someone to tell my secrets to, someone who would understand how difficult it was to be me. I fell asleep to the sound of Jerry’s purrs and comforting warmth.

    The next morning I stuffed Jerry back in the closet and was getting dressed for school when my mother stepped into my room. She greeted me cheerfully as was her way when suddenly her nose twisted and she turned her head to take in what could only be the result of an indoor cat without a litter box.

    She began to sniff the air as I vainly tried to distract her with small talk and questions about breakfast. She ignored me as she continued her search for the source of the SMELL. I positioned myself between her and the closet door as she picked through dirty clothes and scattered toys. She saw me by the closet door, my eyes wide with feigned innocence and asked me to please move away. I did as told and held my breath as she slid the door open.

    What she was expecting to find, I do not know, but I do know she did not expect a gray furry creature to leap out like a shot and scurry under the bed. She shrieked in surprise but quickly composed herself after I told her that it was just Jerry, my new pet cat.

    My brothers and sister, tuning into the strange noise coming from my room, all seemed to burst through my door at once, excitedly crowding around my mother wondering what terrible thing had happened to cause me to cry out No! No! No! My mother quickly told them of the cat contraband hiding under my bed and what happened next is the only possible thing that could have happened when five exited children and one harried, overworked mother try to catch a determined cat in a small one-level rambler.

    Cat runs under the bed, children try to reach cat by poking at it with a broomstick. Cat tears out of bedroom door between the legs of the youngest child and finds refuge under the large queen-sized bed in the master bedroom.

    Loud, highly excited children swarm into the room and the cat darts out and down the hall into the living room, where it finds refuge behind the large blue Lazyboy chair.

    When my mother had finally had enough, she called for silence and for everyone to stop. She calmly told me to retrieve the cat and in spite of my tears and that I would just die if she got rid of my only pet, she calmly took Jerry from my arms and handed him off to my older brother who gleefully took Jerry to the back door and without ceremony dumped him onto the back step.

    I wailed and rushed to the door but my mother gently took me in her arms and explained once again that we could not have cats and Jerry most likely belonged to a neighbor who was probably at this very moment out looking for him.

    It just wasn’t fair. Why did I have to be born in a family that couldn’t have pets? Didn’t they understand I just didn’t want a cat I needed one to live. My mother reminded me that I was still breathing and we all had to get out the door to school. She hugged me and wiped my face and left to go clean up the mess that Jerry had deposited on my closet floor.

    I was feeling pretty peevish when I finally left for school and even though I called for Jerry and searched for him as I walked, I never saw him again. I imagined a joyful reunion with an elderly owner who was grateful that some anonymous 9 year old had kept Jerry safe for the night.

    And as I type this with one of my many cats nestled in my lap. I do remember getting some satisfaction out of the fact that my older brother’s face swelled up and his eyes watered uncontrollably due to the cat dander and that he was miserable for days.
    Thank you, Jerry, wherever you are.

    How a big German Shepherd, an anxious Siberian Husky and a rogue Collie helped me get my first dog.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for cats in all life stages – please click on Cat Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.



  • Fun With Feed Math! Part 2: Rules to Feed By

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Now that we have finished our discussion concerning our horses energy requirements, we are going to turn our attention to how best to deliver those calories to our horses. Over the next few months, we will discuss many confusing issues facing horse owners concerning the type, quantity, and quality of our feeds. As horse owners are barraged with information concerning grazing, metabolic syndrome, obesity and ulcers, it is sometimes easy to get lost in the conflicting information. So we are going to take it step by step, and do our best to understand these complex issues. Hopefully we all know that our duty as horse owners is to feed our horses a diet which maximizes their health, both physically and mentally. This month we will discuss strategies for feeding horses that will optimize not only the health of their digestive system, but keep them mentally sound as well. To understand how best to feed horses, we first need discuss the true nature of a horse prior to its domestication and modern management practices.

    How the horse got started.

    Horses certainly didn’t evolve on the lush pastures of Kentucky behind beautiful wooden fences. They were plains animals who drifted about continuously looking for sources of food. Horses successfully existed through times of rapid growth of grasses in the spring but also through the dormancy of fall and winter, times of drought etc. Compare that idea to horses who now have laminitis issues with grazing lush pastures! If we examine how horses naturally forage, they are selective grazers who seek out the most nutritious plants at particular stages of growth. Thus they moved continuously as they look for plants with greater palatability, and presumably more nutritional value to the horse. Feral horses will typically spend from one half to two-thirds of their day grazing, moving continuously as they graze. That means horses are meant to eat small amounts continuously and to travel extensively as they do so. Studies on grazing horses have shown that typically horses will cover 1-3 miles per day as they forage.

    Grazing too much?The amount of time foraging is dependent upon the nutrient density of the pasture. The more sparse the vegetation, the more need for grazing time. Imagine wandering on the open plains searching for feed compared to grazing on well manicured pastures in Kentucky! On modern pastures that are managed well and improved with fertilization and seeding, it does not take as much time for the horse to meet its nutrient requirements. That is why we often see horses managed on pastures which are able to get fat, compared to feral horses. They are also confined to a greater extent, and thus may not be getting the amount of exercise a feral horse would receive. Additionally, many breeds of horses were originally selected from individuals who were more efficient at using feed. Think of our more docile breeds who have an easy going temperament. This personality type is often linked with the “thrifty” genotype. These guys (think ponies, Quarter Horses, Morgans, etc.) often have more problems with obesity and obesity related issues. In fact, this is such an important, and confusing, issue, we will address this problem specifically in an upcoming issue.

    Let’s look on the inside!

    From what we stated previously about the “normal” life for a horse, the horse’s digestive system is designed to deal with small amounts of food taken in continuously throughout the day. When we look at a horse’s digestive system, this easily makes sense. In comparison to our dogs, or cats, a horse’s stomach makes up a relatively small percentage of its entire tract. The stomach makes up about 10% of the entire tract, while the hind gut of the horse comprises 65% percent of the horse’s digestive capacity. While carnivores are considered to be opportunistic meal feeders (Eat as much as possible when you catch something because you never know when your next meal is coming!) horses are designed to eat small amounts (or continuous steady intake) throughout the day. The rate of passage, or how fast food moves out of the stomach, is fairly rapid. Two hours after eating, half of the solid particulate matter has passed out of the stomach, with ingesta reaching the hind gut within 5 hrs, while the stomach will be completely empty 10 hours post feeding.

    So what does this mean for the horse? Interestingly, the horse’s ability to salivate is directly tied to mouth movements. In other words, they salivate when they chew. In other species, such as cattle, the salivary glands continuously produce saliva, of which a significant component is sodium bicarbonate. This continuous salivation buffers the rumen (or the foregut) of cattle and helps to prevent a drop in pH (or preventing an acidic environment). Compare this again to our meal feeders, (dogs, cats, and us), which salivate when we anticipate a meal. This helps the food slide down the esophagus with greater ease. Horses in the natural state have a relatively steady supply of saliva entering their stomach, with buffers included, as they graze throughout the day. However, compare the natural state to what happens when we manage horses in the typical box stall setting. Horses are provided with feed twice a day, with sometimes a prolonged period of time between their evening meal and the morning feeding. When the horse has not been provided with feed after 5-6 hours, the pH of their stomach begins to drop. This is why feeding strategies can directly impact our horse’s health. With a repeated drop in pH, the horse becomes susceptible to ulcers. Couple this with other risk factors for ulcer development and we can get a pretty unhappy horse. So our first rule of feeding horses is to provide enough forage to prevent the horse from being without anything to eat, ideally for less than six hours but at least avoiding a completely empty stomach 10 hrs post eating. Next month we will discuss ulcers in horses in depth.


    From a riding perspective, we like it when horses salivate when they are ridden. This is typically equated with a horse being “soft in the face or jaw”. These horses are using their jaw and tongue and thus are not locked or stiff through the jaw resisting the rider. We often use bits that have a copper component which encourages salivation. Ever put a penny in your mouth? What happens? As horses salivate they will swallow, and this again helps to prevent a horse from stiffening through his jaw.

    The stomach of the horse is not the only part of the digestive tract we need to be concerned with. As horses are designed to graze, their natural diet consists of longstem forages. While they possess the digestive capacity to utilize grains such as corn and oats, these would not make up a significant portion of the horses’ natural diet. However, we sometimes need to supply our horses with more energy dense sources of feeds when their energy requirements go up, such as moderate or intense exercise. We may also find ourselves sometimes short of hay due to prices, drought, supply shortages etc. Thus we may need to look at alternative feed sources than our typical baled hay. However, as horses are designed to ferment forages in their cecum and hind gut, it is important that we keep that fermentation functioning properly. To ensure this proper function, we need to feed horses at least 1 % of their body weight in forage per day. That means if your horse weighs 1200 lbs, it should never receive less than 12 lbs of hay or forage per day. Now if you actually weigh that out, you would see that really isn’t that much at all. Ideally, the horse should receive closer to 2% of their body weight in hay per day. So double that 12 lbs to 24 and you will be much closer to what the horse would naturally consume. On their own, horses will consume about 2-3% of their body weight per day. How we provide that amount, or if we provide that amount of feed, is up to us.

    For horses that have high energy requirements, it may be necessary to provide them with extra concentrate. However, large meals of concentrates may not be great for gut health. If the rate of concentrate intake exceeds that of the horse’s ability to digest it in the small intestine, it escapes to the hindgut of the horse. Here, there are types of bacteria that will thrive on this meal of simple carbohydrates. Unfortunately, this carbohydrate fermenting bacteria will produce more acidic by products. The lowering of pH in the hindgut can set off a chain of unhealthy events, including laminitis, colic, diarrhea etc. Thus, horses should never be fed concentrate meals (the grain portion) in levels of over 0.5 to 0.6% of their body weight at one time. Beyond this point, we exceed the capacity of the horse’s small intestine to digest and absorb the meal. For our 1200 lb horse, that means that his grain meal should never be over 6-7 lbs. If the horse truly requires that much grain (12-14 lbs per day), the best solution would be to split the concentrate into multiple, smaller meals.

  • Fun With Feed Math! Part 1: Demystifying The Label

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    In our previous series we discussed the energy needs of horses, how they are calculated, how they differ between classes or types of horses, and how your feeding strategies should reflect the energy needs of the horse. For this series, we are going to switch gears a little, and focus on understanding commercial feed tags. In today’s equine feed market, there are an overwhelming number of feeds and types of feeds available to select for your horse. It certainly can be bit confusing at times. Our goal is to clear up some of the confusion and allow you to make the best choices based on your horse’s needs.

    Types of feeds available.Typically, concentrates (what most horse owners refer to as grain or feed) are added to the equine diet to supply additional energy that cannot be met by hay consumption, or to supply additional protein. We will consider anything not in the classification of forage or roughage to fall into the “horse feed” category. When shopping for horse feed, you should know there are different classifications of feeds available: textured feeds, processed feeds, complete feeds, and supplements.
    Textured feeds.

    Textured feeds are those we typically think of as sweet feeds. They contain whole grains such as corn, oats, soybeans etc. that have been processed so that the horse can digest them more easily. Typically the grains are cracked, crushed, crimped or rolled which breaks up the outer layer of the kernel to allow the horse’s digestive enzymes easier access to the internal contents of the seed. The term “sweet feed” originates with the practice of adding molasses to the feed to enhance the flavor of the feed, suppress the dustiness of the feed, and to bind together additional ingredients. As most feeds are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals vital to the horse, it is important than these ingredients do not settle out of the feed and remain uneaten. The molasses essentially helps to prevent that from happening. Plus, most horses just plain love molasses!

    Processed feeds.The second types of feed commonly encountered by the horse owner are the processed feeds. Rather than being able to indentify individual grains, these feeds are either pelleted or extruded. Pelleting essentially eliminates the concern of the fine particles (such as the vitamins and minerals) from being sorted out and thus ensures that the horse is receiving all nutrients intended by the feed manufacturer. Extruded feeds are produced under pressure and heat to create a lighter, less dense product which would more closely resemble dog food. As extruded feeds take longer for your horse to chew, there are some advantages to feeding these if your horse likes to rapidly ingest its feed. Further, prolonging chew time has some real advantages for your horse’s health (which we will discuss in the coming months). While both pelleted and extruded feeds have some advantages for feeding, realize the feed company has more processing involved, thus these products will cost more.
    Complete feeds.Complete feeds are those that are intended to potentially serve as the horse’s only source of feed, and may serve to replace the forage component of the feed. These feeds have a fiber source added to the more traditional cereal grains, such as chopped hay, beet pulp or other fiber sources. While they serve the same purpose of maintaining the gut health of the horse as feeding hay, your horse may not consider it the same! The amount of time the horse spends eating will be less if only these feeds are fed, with no long stem forage. Ideally for the normal healthy horse, we recommend feeding 2% of their body weight in hay per day. (More on that again soon). So who are they appropriate for? For one, the senior horses who have poor teeth. It is vital that these horses are still consuming roughage, albeit in a different form than from their younger years. Older horses may not be able to properly chew hay, but they still have the desire to forage. Allowing them a source of hay to pick through is a great way to keep the old guys happy. Complete feeds are also quite handy if your forage supply is questionable, either from lack of supply or quality. As hay making is quite dependent on the weather, there certainly may be times where it becomes necessary to feed complete feeds to horses. They may also make a handy way to travel with your horse, as they are less bulky to handle and transport than hay bales.

    Omega Horseshine Bag

    The final category of horse feeds available fall into the category of supplements. These feeds are designed to supply protein, specific amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins or minerals to the horse which may be missing from its diet. While a properly fortified textured, pelleted/extruded, or complete feed may eliminate the need for supplements, many people seek supplements to optimize the diet of their horse. Omega Horsehine® and Omega Grande® would both be examples of supplements. They are fed in amounts less than that of traditional horse feed, and are formulated to supply key essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Often times horses can meet their energy needs solely from forage alone, and many supplements are designed to meet the shortfall in specific nutrients that the forage may lack. Thus some specific supplements may eliminate the need to increase the grain component of the diet and provide calories the horse doesn’t need.


    The feed or supplement you select must always be based first from the type of forage or roughage your horse is consuming! This is the bulk of what your horse consumes and feeds should be selected that complement your hay. For example, if you are feeding your horse high quality alfalfa hay which is high in protein, you do not need a high protein concentrate! Always consider your hay selection first!

    What does a feed tag have to tell you?First, we need to discuss what information you will always find on a feed tag. On every feed label, both the product name and brand name must be included, so that the feed is identifiable. It will also include what the product is intended for, such as the type of horse including activity level, age, and reproductive state. This will provide you with an immediate guide to determine if the feed is appropriate for your horse. If you have a young, growing horse, you should look for a feed designed to meet the increased nutrient demands for growth.
    Guaranteed Analysis.

    Omega Nibblers Guaranteed Analysis

    The second key piece of information on a feed tag is the guaranteed analysis. The following must always be included by the feed company on every product it sells: the minimum amount of crude protein, the minimum amount of crude fat, the maximum amount of crude fiber, both the minimum and maximum amount of calcium and the minimum amount of phosphorous. All of these will be listed in a percentage basis. Other nutrients will be listed in parts per million or ppm. For equine feeds, copper, zinc and selenium will all be included on the feed tag in these units. Finally, the amount of Vitamin A will be listed in International Units/lb or IU/lb (if needed). Many times the feed companies will include much more information, especially if the feed is designed for specific types of horses.


    Let’s look at Omega Horseshine’s feed tag information- as it appears on the new 20 lb bag. The values highlighted in red are those that Omega Fields is required by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to provide on their label. Those in black are not required, but may be of special interest to those selecting Omega Horseshine®.

    Ingredient list.Third, after the guaranteed analysis, the feed company must then include a list of ingredients used to make the feed. The ingredients will be listed in the order of the ingredient included at the largest quantity to the ingredient included at the smallest level. Manufacturers may list specific feeds (such as corn or oats) or may use the term grain products. Grain products indicate some sort of processing method has occurred such as flaking, grinding etc. You may also see ingredients listed such as plant protein products. These are collective terms for an ingredient class. For example, cottonseed meal, linseed meal, soybean meal and yeast could all be included under the term plant protein product. The company is then able to change ingredients, usually dependent on market prices and availability, without changing the feed label. This allows the company some flexibility in the manufacturing process as to which ingredients may be selected, provided it does not change the guaranteed analysis of nutrient content! Other examples of collective feed terms are animal protein products (fish meal, meat meal, bone meal, skimmed milk, dried whey etc.), grain products (barley, corn, oats, wheat, etc.), processed grain products (brewers dried grains, wheat millings, distillers dried grains etc.) or roughage products (barley hulls, beet pulp, rice hulls etc.)In looking at our feed tag for Omega Horseshine® we can see that the three main ingredients are the flaxseed, yeast and ground oats. After these three products, the next ingredients listed are the minerals followed by vitamins, which is reflective of the amount of these items required in the equine diet.

    Omega Horseshine label
    Other information.Finally, the feed company will usually provide other information on their feed tag, such as feeding guidelines. This may include how much of the feed to provide, recommendations on the amount of forage to be fed or other such information. Providing the feed in the amount recommended by the feed company allows the feed to function as the manufactures designed it. For example, if one fed Omega Horseshine at only 1/4 cup per day, the horse would not be receiving the amount of Omega 3, minerals, and vitamins the feed was designed to provide in a daily ration. Conversely, over-feeding a feed can also be detrimental, as you may then be providing excess nutrients to your horse.The next article in this series will look at using feed tags according to horse’s actual nutrient requirements. This will involve a little bit of math, so get your calculators ready!

  • Feeding Forage, Part 2: Selecting Forage

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Last month we discussed how much hay you should actually tuck away before winter. You don’t want to run out before that first cutting rolls around in June! But what about the quality of that hay? This month we will talk about what to look for in a quality hay; what things you don’t have to be so strict about in terms of quality, and what makes the most economical sense.

    CuttingsMany people prefer to use only one certain cutting of hay, but that largely is irrelevant provided the hay is overall of good quality. Many choose to avoid first cutting hay, but it is certainly acceptable to feed horses. One of the difficulties of first crop hay may be a larger weed content, as these plants may grow more readily at the beginning of the growing season. However, if there are little to no weeds in the hay field, this may make little difference. It is true that first crop hay may be more difficult to put up due to weather conditions. Typically it rains more at the beginning of the growing season, so there is more chance that the hay will be rained on. Certainly rain can lower the nutrition value of the hay from 40-50%. However, careful inspection of the hay will allow you to determine if your hay has been rained upon. Hay that is grown in the hottest part of the months may result in more stems and less leaves as the plant grows rapidly. This can also lower the nutritional value of the hay. Later cuttings when it is cooler may have more leaves, less weeds, and perhaps less chance of being rained upon (depending on the whims of the weather). However, your best guide is to simply inspect the hay for quality, rather than automatically simply paying more for later cuttings of hay.

    One of the first criteria in selecting hay is to determine how old the plant actually was when it was harvested. The older the plant is (whether it is a legume or a grass) the more fiber content is present. Translation - the less digestible it actually will be by your horse, and the lower the energy value of the hay, and the more hay you will “waste”. Now bear in mind this may not necessarily be a bad thing, especially if you have mature horses who are easy keepers. Previously we had stated that your horses ideally eat 2% of their body weight in hay per day. But if you are feeding at that level and your horse is fat, one viable option in lowering their calorie intake is to lower the energy density of their hay by choosing more mature hays. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, you would want to select younger hays. For grass hays, you want to examine the plants for the presence of seed heads. This definitely indicates a mature plant and one that will have more fiber and less relative feed value. Seed heads that are just beginning to show through the sheath are acceptable, but if the entire seed head is visible, the plant is very mature. Also look for a color change in grass hays. As the plant matures, they change from a bright green appearance to a more dusky grey. For legumes, look for flowers. For example, alfalfa develops purple flowers with an advanced vegetative state. While that field of pretty purple might be nice to drive by and look at, it means less nutrition for your horse!


    The leaves of the plant contain the most nutritional value for the horse, so look for hays with greater leaf content. In grass hays, the maturity of the plant will definitely influence leaf content, as you will get more proportional stem as the plant matures. The same is true for legumes, which will get proportionally more stemmy with advancing maturity. The handling of the hay will also influence the overall leafiness. If fields have to be raked excessively (usually to aid with drying after rain), more leaf loss will occur. If the hay was allowed to dry excessively (below 12% prior to baling and storing) leaf shatter may occur resulting in a significant loss of nutrient content. Legumes are much more prone to leaf loss as the leaves are held much less firmly to the plant than in grass hays. Even handling of the hay post storing, such as transport, feeding etc. can result in great leaf loss in legume hays.

    TextureWhen examining hays, it is important to actually get your hands on the hay. Horses prefer to eat hay that is softer and more pliable. This does directly relate to nutritive value, as tougher, stemmier hay will be higher in fiber content. A good test is to grasp several pieces of hay together and twist them. If the stems break and shatter, the less acceptable they will be by the horse. This can also indicate the hay was dried too much before baling.
    ColorIdeally good hay has a bright green color. This not only reflects when the hay was harvested (especially for grass hays) but also how long the hay has been stored, if it was stored properly or if it was rained upon. Hay that has been exposed to sunlight will be faded or bleached to a yellowish appearance. Many vitamins are light sensitive, so expose to sun will decrease the nutritive content of the hay. However, don’t judge a bale too harshly by its cover. Open the bale up, if it is still green inside, it will still be a quality hay for the horse. Hay that has a grayish cast or is darker than normal may be moldy or may have been rained on. Rain will make hay have a more discolored appearance and again indicates a lower quality hay.
    Free from…

    Here is where you really need to pay attention to your hay. Inspect the hay for the presence of unwanted items. Weeds can not only lower the acceptability of the hay and the nutritional content, but can be seriously detrimental to your horse. Many weeds are toxic to horses or can cause physical damage through ingesting sharp barbs or nettles. It is generally not worth the risk to feed weedy hay, unless you are an expert at species identification! Also look for debris or trash. Normal hay fields don’t contain twine, pop cans, beer bottles etc. This may mean your hay actually came from a ditch or roadway. All of these can cause damage to your horse. While the occasional snake or mouse might be no problem (hey it happens), be especially vigilant for bugs, especially in alfalfa hay. Blister beetles are highly toxic to horses and ingestion of just a few can cause death. Last but not least, look for mold. You may find dark discolored areas, or patches of white fuzzy mold. Moldy hay should never be fed to horses. One easy test is to just smell your hay. It should have a pleasant, fragrant smell. A musty smell indicates mold. Break the hay open and slap it. If fine dust rises into the air, avoid it as well. Commonly hay that has been baled to wet (over 20% moisture) will mold in the barn. If you happen to have the fun job of individually unloading small square bales of hay, toss aside any that feel excessively heavy to you. They are probably wet, and you don’t want to store those in your barn.

    Remember, any type of grass or legume hay can be good hay for your horse (assuming they are species horses eat), provided it is good quality. Don’t pay a premium value for your hay unless you have a chance to inspect it yourself. Don’t be afraid to turn away substandard hay. It is in the best interest of your horse.

  • Feeding Forage, Part 1: Figuring Your Forage Needs

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    As this is the time of the year that hay fields are being cut and the days are already getting shorter, it is time to be filling your barns or sheds with hay for the upcoming year. This month we will learn how to estimate your hay needs so that you don’t find yourself short come April or May.

    To begin, we will review some of the information covered previously. The best method to estimate hay needs is based on your horse’s body weight. If you haven’t weighed your horse yet, head out to the barn with your weight tape or your string! (See Equine Energy Requirements) Using our forage feeding rules (See Rules to Feed By), we know that at a minimum your horse needs to consume 1% of its body weight in forage per day. Now that figure is actually on what we call a dry matter basis. Most hay will run on average 85% dry matter. What that means is 15% of the hay is actually water. So let’s walk through our first calculations. Let’s assume for simplicity sake that your horse is 1000 lbs. Therefore he needs to consume a minimum of 10 lbs of feed per day on a dry matter basis. Well, what is that if I actually weight it out? Divide the amount of hay by the % dry matter (10 lbs/0.85=11.8 lbs). To finish out, at a minimum your horse will consume 11.8 lbs x 365 days/year or 4,294 lbs of hay. That means you need to figure that for your one horse you should purchase about 2 tons of hay.

    Of course, that is assuming you are feeding forage at the minimum requirement. However, as we have discussed previously, feeding forage at a minimum may not be the best for the gut health of your horse and certainly for his mental health as well. In addition, horses that do not receive adequate forage to satisfy their need to chew develop very bad habits such as wood chewing, tail chewing and even cribbing. A better idea, at least where your horse is concerned, is to feed at 2% of your horses body weight per day. So with our same 1000 lbs horse, our equation is now 1000 *.02 = 20 lbs of hay/.85 (for dry matter adjustment) * 365 days. That works out to be 8,588 lbs or 4.3 tons of hay. Now that sounds a little more reasonable.

    But what if your horses are outside and you are feeding them free choice hay? Horses can consume quite a bit more hay if offered, especially if their energy needs go up due to work, lactation, or cold weather, or if the hay is especially palatable. Horses can easily consume 3% of their body weight per day. That works out to a need for 12,882 lbs or 6.4 tons for your 1000 lb horse if you allow your horse full access to feed. Would there be a reason to do so? Absolutely. Many times the easiest and most economical ways to feed horses is to feed them round bales. Because there is less labor involved, round bales are often the cheapest way to buy hay. They are especially practical if you are feeding large groups of horses housed outdoors. However, unless you lock your horses away from the round bale feeder, they may certainly consume the upper limits of forage intake. For that reason, many horses can get quite fat if fed on good quality round bales.

    Another consideration when purchasing hay is potential wastage. Horses will eat more than necessary if offered and become fat. They are also quite good at pulling hay from feeders and trampling it into the ground. With round bales, you can assume that 30% of your bale will be wasted via horses and exposure to the elements. Be sure to include this wastage when calculating your hay needs. You should also have a proper storage site that protects hay from sunlight and rain. Hay should not be set directly on the ground, as this can result in molding of the bottom layer. Many people try to cover hay stores with plastic or tarps to prevent wastage from rain. However, frequently the opposite is experienced. Plastic is easily punctured and allows water in, but the covering may prevent water from evaporating and only serve to further the wastage you were trying to avoid. Look at your feeding systems as well. Solid sided and bottomed feeders prevent most wastage, but horses should not be overfed, as water in feeders due to rain will result in more wastage of the hay remaining in the feeders. Never feed horses hay on the ground, as a very large percentage will be lost due to trampling, soiling on the hay etc. Further, this will result in a greater chance of parasitism through fecal contamination of hay.

    How much does hay weigh?

    As you can see, all of our estimates for hay needs have been based on weight. Ideally, this is how you will negotiate the price for hay as well. You should try to buy your hay on a tonnage basis, rather than by bale. For example, small square bales of a similar size can vary from as light as 35 lbs (loosely packed) or as high as 100 lbs! If your hay supplier wants a per bale price, make sure you weigh several bales (7-10) to get an accurate estimate of what you are truly paying for the hay. If you don’t have a scale for the hay, just bring a bathroom scale, hop on, and then weigh yourself holding the hay bales. Just subtract your own weight (you don’t have to have anybody look!) from the total, and repeat several more times. If you are buying hay in large square bales, round bales or by the truckload, the producer has typically already weighed the hay on a farm scale.

    Buy by the BulkIdeally contract with your hay producer for enough hay to meet your needs (which we have just figured out) during the growing season. If you are forced to buy hay in the winter, expect the price to go up. Also, the larger quantities you can buy, the cheaper the cost. Perhaps going together with another horse owner to purchase loads of hay could result in greater savings. A building suitable for storing large amounts of hay may save you money in the long run over years of hay purchases.Next month. What kind of hay should you buy? What should you be looking for? What is good quality hay?

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat, strong solid hooves, and top performance – and for clear and consise labels – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes and Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.


  • Minerals for Horses: Calcium: The Building Block

    Written by Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will return to discussions of nutrient requirement for horses. Remember we discussed energy needs for horses in the earlier articles: Equine Energy Requirements, Energy for Work, and Broodmares and Babies. Now we will look more closely at other nutrient requirements, beginning with mineral requirements. Minerals are involved in a variety of functions in the body, including enzymes, structural components, energy transfer and acid base balance. Minerals are also incorporated into vitamins, amino acids, and hormones. Thus proper mineral nutrition is vital to have a healthy horse. The minerals that are needed in the largest quantities by horses are referred to as the macro-minerals. These include calcium (Ca), phosphorous (P), magnesium (Mg), potassium (K), sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl). These minerals are needed in the diet in concentrations of g/kg or percentages, versus ppm or mg/kg of micro-minerals. Today we start with those most commonly talked about in equine nutrition, Ca and P.

    A note of cautionIt is important to remember that when creating diets for horses, we consider not only how much mineral is in the diet, but also the ratio of particular minerals in relationship to others. Minerals have very complex interactions with each other, and excesses or deficiencies of minerals can greatly affect the absorption, metabolism and excretion of others. Therefore horse owners who “tinker” too much with their horse’s diet through overzealous supplementation may be doing more harm than good for their horse.

    Previously in Broodmares and Babies we had mentioned that the ratio of Ca and P is always important when looking at horse rations. If you recall, we would like to see a ratio of 2:1 Ca:P, with a range of 1:1 to 6:1 being acceptable. What you should avoid is a total diet which is less than 1:1 or in other words, offers more P than Ca. This is due to the fact that phosphorous competes with Ca for absorption in the gut. Remember to calculate the entire diet however! And while the proper ratio is important, it is possible to have the correct ratio, but still be deficient in these minerals if they are in insufficient quantities in the feed. Now let’s talk in more detail about these very important minerals.


    How important is calcium?
    Commonly most people think of calcium’s role as that of bone development and integrity. Certainly the skeleton does account for 99% of the calcium in the horses’ body. However, Ca is absolutely essential for neuromuscular function, blood clotting, cell signaling, and an array of enzymes. Because of its importance, calcium concentrations are very tightly regulated in the blood. When Ca in the diet is inadequate, the bone serves as a major reservoir. Thus the body will sacrifice calcium within the bone to maintain blood Ca homeostasis. A prolonged period of Ca deprivation can lead to a weakened skeleton. In addition, this means that blood values of Ca are relatively poor indicators of Ca status in the horse. Calcium deficiencies are especially detrimental to young growing horses as this can lead to osteopenia. Improper ossification can lead to enlarged joints or improper growth patterns of the long bones. Therefore, it is critical to look carefully at the diet of lactating mares and foals.
    Calcium requirements
    Adult horses which aren’t exercising are relatively easy to meet their calcium requirements as can be seen in Table 1. The increase in Ca requirements for exercising horses is presumably due to an increase in bone deposition. Horses undergoing intense exercise experience an increase in bone mass and thus have a greater need for calcium. (More on bone formation in upcoming articles) It is unlikely that light exercise, or exercise that the horse is already adapted to (essentially no change in work intensity) results in much change in calcium requirements. Additionally most studies of calcium and exercise have focused on the young, growing horse. However, in an effort to err on the side of safety, the National Research Council recommends higher intakes of calcium. There is some loss of Ca in the sweat of exercising animals which is also represented in the increase in requirements for work.
    Weight (lbs.) Maintenance Light work Moderate work Heavy work
    900 16 24 28 32
    1000 18 27 31 36
    1100 20 29 34 39
    1200 21 32 38 43
    1300 23 35 41 46

    Table 1. Calcium requirements (in grams/day) for adult horses at maintenance or work. To determine which class your horse fits into, read Energy for Work.


    For gestating mares, requirements of Ca increase the greatest for the 9th, 10th and 11th month of gestation, which is concurrent with the most rapid increase in fetal growth. However, there is still substantial fetal growth in the 7th and 8th month of gestation as well, and so Ca requirements are greater than maintenance. Lactating mares clearly have an increase in Ca demand in order to support the very rapid growth of their foal. Mares fed an inadequate amount of Ca actually experience a decrease in bone density (as detected through radiographic analysis of the cannon bone). If you compare Table 1 with Table 2, you can see that at least in terms of Ca horses at light to moderate work would be considered to be comparable to gestating mares. However, demands of lactation far outstrip the working horses in needs of calcium. Therefore, one should either choose a feed for lactating mares and babies, or a supplement designed to meet their needs. After the first three months of peak lactation, the calcium demands on the mare taper off as the foal derives more of his nutrition from the feed he consumes.
    Weight (lbs) Month of Gestation Month of Lactation
    - 6th 7th-8th 9th-11th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
    900 16 23 29 48 47 45 34
    1000 18 25 32 53 53 50 37
    1100 20 27 35 58 58 55 41
    1200 21 30 39 63 63 60 45
    1300 23 32 42 69 68 65 48

    Table 2. Calcium requirements (g/d) for gestating and pregnant mares. Remember to use Table 5 from Broodmares and Babies to determine how much your mare should weigh.


    The Babies
    Obviously foals get much of their Ca from their mothers’ milk, but as they start to ingest new feeds and taper off their reliance on mom, it becomes your job to balance their diet. In the following table, I list the approximate Ca requirements of growing foals from 4 months until 2 years of age. Now, in just looking at the table, one might think that the Ca requirements appear low, but remember they are listed in grams per day! Because the foal is much smaller, he eats much less per day, thus the concentration of Ca in his feed must be greater. For example, a foal which consumed 2% of its body weight in alfalfa hay that was 2% Ca would meet its requirements, but if it was eating orchard grass hay that was 0.4% Ca would definitely not! There is not a very large decrease in overall Ca requirements as the foal matures. But as the foal matures and reaches a larger body size, it will consume more and thus the concentration of Ca needed in the diet will go down. Confusing, right? Don’t worry, next month we will discuss P requirements and then more importantly, how to put this all together with calculations from what you might be actually feeding.
    Estimated Mature Weight 4 mo-7 mo 8-14 mo 15-24 mo
    900 31 30 30
    1000 35 34 33
    1100 38 37 36
    1200 42 41 40
    1300 45 44 43

    Table 3. Approximate Ca requirements (g/d) for growing foals based on their estimated mature weight.

    How big will my baby be?

    How do you know what size they will be? Look at both the mare and the sire, and use an average. However, foals from maiden mares and older mares, tend to be smaller. Don’t forget that the nutrition program and environment that the dam and sire were subjected to also played a large role in their final growth. Also, foals carried by recipient mares will have a large influence in their size due to their foster momma, and less of an extent by their genetic mother. That’s why most farms choose larger mares for embryo transfer programs to carry donor mare’s babies. In addition, the early a colt is gelded, the larger they may mature to be. All in all, there is no firm way to know, but we can use our best estimation!

    How much is too much?
    Calcium has been fed as high as five times the horse’s requirement without any ill effects provided that the P intake is adequate. The maximal concentration of Ca in the horse’s diet is 2%, however it would be hard to find feeds that reach that level. However, excess Ca has been implicated as a causative factor of ulcers (See Is My Horse Stressed Out) due to an increase in gastrin secretion. Alternatively, others have found that alfalfa diets (and thus higher Ca) may decrease the incidence of ulcers. Clearly more work regarding Ca and ulcer formation in the horse is needed.
    Osteopenia - a decrease in bone mineral density below normal. In humans this is considered to be a precursor to osteoporosis. Horses don’t really suffer from osteoporosis.
    Ossification - essentially proper bone formation replacing cartilage as the horse grows, not to be confused with calcification. While calcification is a normal process of ossification, abnormal calcification can also occur, for example the formation of splints.

    Gastrin - a peptide hormone secreted by the parietal cells of the stomach which stimulates secretion of gastric acids (HCL) and increases gastric motility. Gastrin release is stimulated by the presence of protein in the stomach, as well as conditions of hypercalcemia.


  • Minerals for Horses: Managing CA&P for Horses

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Last month we took a more in depth look at the calcium requirements for horses. This month we will look at phosphorous needs in the horse, and then put it all together in formulating some diets for horses.


    What does phosphorous do?
    Many horse owners know that P is important for bone growth and skeletal health in their horses. While Ca is the major player, P makes up 14-17% of the mineral component of a horses skeleton. But that is not all it does. Phosphorous is vital in energy transfers (a little molecule called ATP – the P stands for phosphate!), DNA and RNA synthesis, cell membranes etc. Your horse would be going no where without P! Therefore, we shouldn’t forget P when looking at our horse’s diet.
    What do you need to know?
    For many horse owners, P is usually not to close to the forefront of our minds as most diets for horses will be adequate. However, the same is not true if you raise other livestock species. Phosphorous runoff is an environmental concern, and not something that even horse owners should completely ignore. Researchers have shown that high calcium diets may lower the ability of the horse to absorb P. This does not hurt the horse, as they are still absorbing a sufficient amount to meet their needs. But when we decrease absorption from the gut, you increase excretion in the form of feces. Now horse manure has a lower proportion of water soluble P in it compared to other species, and thus is less of a threat of contributing to run-off, especially in a pasture management situation. This may not eliminate the need for concern for larger stables with more concentrated numbers of animals. It may not be too long until the horse industry also comes under the scrutiny of the EPA. Now don’t panic! The point is that we simply want to avoid the random supplementation of minerals to horses without full consideration of the diet.
    Phosphorous deficiencies and excessPhosphorous deficiencies are typically not seen in mature horses, even when exercising. However, just like with Ca, special attention needs to be paid to the broodmares and babies, who are both busy forming new bone! Certainly inadequate P results in a slowing of the growth rate of young horses, and can lead to improper bone formation.
    However, excess P can be more of a concern. As stated last month, excess P can inhibit Ca absorption, which is why we always check the Ca:P ratio. Prolonged conditions of excessive P can lead to the development of secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism. So what is the limit? Horses should not be fed more than 1% of their diet as P (and this is assuming a correct ratio). Typically this is not an issue unless the feed source is predominantly cereal grains (like wheat bran or oats) which are high in P. Conceivably this could happen on all grass forage (ie not legumes) with a high grain intake containing no mineral supplement as a balancer.
    RequirementsAs the tables below show, maintenance horses will be fairly easy to meet their P requirements. In exercising horses, most of the requirements were determined using young horses who were also concurrently laying down more bone. However, again, the P requirements for mature exercising horses are estimated to be higher, more as a margin of safety.
    Gestating broodmares and lactating mares again have higher P requirements, which you can see in Table 5. And just like last month, while the babies requirements might look low, they are listed in grams needed per day. That means that overall they need to have a higher concentration of P in the diet. Babies that are being fed for rapid growth without properly balanced P levels in the diet can certainly lead them to develop joint disease.
    Weight (lbs.) Maintenance Light work Moderate work Heavy work
    900 11 14 17 23
    1000 12 16 19 26
    1100 14 18 21 28
    1200 15 19 23 31
    1300 16 21 24 34

    Table 4. Phosphorous requirements (in grams/day) for adult horses at maintenance or work. To determine which class your horse fits into, read ENERGY REQUIREMENTS FOR THE WORKING CLASS HORSE.

    Weight (lbs) Month of Gestation Month of Lactation
    - 6th 7th-8th 9th-11th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th
    900 11 16 21 31 31 29 21
    1000 12 18 23 34 34 32 23
    1100 14 20 26 38 37 35 26
    1200 15 21 28 41 41 39 28
    1300 16 23 30 44 44 42 30

    Table 5. Calcium requirements (g/d) for gestating and pregnant mares. Remember to use Table 5 from BROODMARES AND BABIES to determine how much your mare should weigh.

    Estimated Mature Weight 4 - 7 month 8-14 month 15-24 month
    900 17 17 16
    1000 19 19 18
    1100 21 20 20
    1200 23 22 22
    1300 25 25 24

    Table 6. Approximate P requirements (g/d) for growing foals based on their estimated mature weight.

    What’s in a feed
    Before we start formulating some diets, it might be helpful to look at some typical feed stuffs that we use to create diets for horses. The following values are estimates only, and remember that forages grown on mineral deficient soils may have lower values. Typically, most grains are going to be higher in P than Ca. This should not pose a problem as concentrates should be fed to provide the extra energy or protein the horse needs, rather than making up the majority of their diet. The exception in the table is beet pulp, which isn’t a cereal grain at all. When looking at some typical hays, we can see that legumes (the alfalfa and red clover) provide much greater amounts of Ca than do the grass hays. This makes them ideal choices for broodmares and babies. Even most grass hays have Ca in the correct proportion to P, which makes feeding an imbalanced ratio hard to do. Note however, that orchard grass may be this exception.
    Concentrate % Ca % P
    Beet Pulp .89 .09
    Barley .06 .39
    Cracked Corn .04 .30
    Rolled Oats .11 .40
    Rice Bran .07 1.78
    Wheat Bran .13 1.18

    Table 7. Common concentrates fed to horses. All % are on a dry matter basis.

    Forage % Ca % P
    Coastal Bermuda .19 .27
    Alfalfa 1.27 .24
    Brome Grass .29 .28
    Red Clover 1.38 .24
    Fescue .41 .30
    Orchard Grass .27 .34
    Timothy .48 .23

    Table 8. Common forages fed to horses. All hays are assumed to be harvested at the midbloom stage. Remember that soil type as well as stage of maturity can alter your hays nutritional content.

    Now, let’s put some of these numbers together. For simplicities sake, we will work with a generic 1100 lb horse, and then compare the numbers we get with the table values for different classes of horses. For our first example, we will feed this horse two different diets, one solely Bermuda Coastal grass hay, and one of alfalfa. We will feed him at 2% of his body weight per day. All values above are in dry matter, so we won’t have to convert those values.

    First, we determine how much the horse will eat.
    1. 1100 lbs x .02 = 22 lbs
    Now remember all of our Ca and P requirements are in grams, so lets’ convert lbs to kg.
    2. 22 lb x 1 kg/2.24 lbs= 9.82 kg of hay
    So we know our horse will eat 9.82 kg of our hay per day.

    For the grass hay, we will multiply the amount fed by the percentages of Ca and P in that hay.
    1. 9.82 kg x 0.0019 =0.0187 kg of Ca
    For that to make sense, convert kg into grams.
    2. 0.0187 * 1000 = 18.7 g Ca
    Now for P.
    3. 9.82 kg x 0.0027 x 1000 g/kg = 26.5 g P
    Finally, calculate your Ca to P ratio.
    4. 18.7/26.5 = 0.71 to 1

    So, what does this tell us? First of all, we probably need to have a mineral supplement for our horses to avoid the inverted Ca to P ratio. Alternatively, we could add some legume hay to its diet. When we look at simply meeting the requirements of our 1100 lb horse, we can see we are deficient in Ca if it is a working horse and certainly very low if that was all we fed to a gestating or lactating mare.

    Now, what if we fed alfalfa hay instead? Use the same calculations, but insert the new % of Ca and P for alfalfa.
    1. 9.82 kg x 0.0127 x 1000 g/kg =124 g Ca
    Now for P.
    2. 9.82 kg x 0.0024 x 1000 g/kg = 23 g P
    Finally, calculate your Ca to P ratio.
    124/23 = 5.4:1

    Now we can see that our Ca to P ratio is more desirable. Looking at the horses’ requirements, we can see we have more than met the Ca requirement for all classes of mature horses, and are adequate for P for all working horses except those in heavy work. For mares, we are good until the last part of gestation and through lactation. That shouldn’t surprise you, as broodmares should be fed a better quality diet than our other horses.

    Lastly, let’s see what happens if we decide to add 6 lbs of oats to this 1100 lb horse’s diet. Note: I am doing this solely for the purpose of calculations. There should always be some rationalization for why we add concentrate to our horse’s diet. For my mythical generic horse in this example, we don’t even know what class it is in or what its body condition score is.

    For this example, we will change hays and feed red clover and orchard grass hays.
    Let’s begin with the red clover.
    1. 9.82 kg x 0.0138 x 1000 g/kg =135 g Ca
    Now for P.
    2. 9.82 kg x 0.0024 x 1000 g/kg = 23 g P
    We will now calculate the contribution from our oats.
    3. 6 lbs x 1 kg/2.24 lbs = 2.7 kg oats
    4. 2.7 kg x 0.0011 Ca x 1000 g/kg = 3 g Ca
    5. 2.7 kg x 0.0040 P x 1000 g/kg = 11 g P
    Add the two values together for hay and oats
    6. 135 g Ca from hay + 3 g Ca from oats = 138 g Ca
    7. 23 g P from hay + 11 g P = 34 g P
    Calculate your ratio
    8. 138/34 =4.1:1

    Looks good!!!

    Now again, compare across our class of horses. Calcium is adequate for all classes, and our P requirements are met for all horses except the lactating mares.

    Lastly, we will try adding oats to our orchard grass hay. 1. 9.82 kg x 0.0027 x 1000 g/kg =26.5 g Ca
    Now for P.
    2. 9.82 kg x 0.0034 x 1000 g/kg = 33.4 g P
    Our oat values will remain the same as above.
    Add the two values together for hay and oats
    3. 27 g Ca from hay + 3 g Ca from oats = 30 g Ca
    4. 33 g P from hay + 11 g P = 44 g P
    Calculate your ratio
    30/44 =0.68:1

    Doesn’t look like something we should do!!!

    To wrap up, remember that these diets were a simple exercise in calculating the contribution of calcium and phosphorous from different feed sources. These are not recommendations for actual diets, as we made no attempt to adjust amount fed, supplements added, or appropriate concentrates selected. Next month we will add in a more sophisticated approach to balancing diets inconsideration of type of horse, energy requirements, and growing horses. Until then, have fun practicing with your calculators!

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  • Minerals for Horses: Ca and P: Putting It All Together

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney


    Greetings again fellow horse owners! Hopefully everyone has had a chance over the last few months to start thinking about mineral requirements for horses in mathematical terms. To review, we have discussed the importance of Ca and P, especially in consideration of broodmares and young, growing horses. We have worked on calculating the Ca to P ratio you are providing in your diet, as well as comparing the total amount fed to the animal’s requirements. The suggested daily intake of Ca and P has been provided in tabular form, as well as some common feedstuffs’ concentration of these two minerals. Most importantly, we have worked out the math step-by-step, in order to allow you to really take a close look at your feeding program. This month we will more directly address the idea of feeding young horses properly.

    Let’s talk babies!Again, review the last two articles which provided the amount of Ca and P that is needed by young growing horses. Compared to maintenance horses and exercising horses, the amount they need appears relatively small. But remember, their body size is also small, as well as the amount they can consume in one day! I think it is worthwhile to spend some more time specifically on this important class of horses. One of the difficulties in determining your young horse’s requirements is that they are usually listed according to their mature weight. Certainly that is how I presented this material in the last two months. But in order to help you out, the following table provides information on how much your young horse should weigh at various ages. This, of course is still according to their expected mature weight, which is at best an educated guess (See Minerals for Horses: Calcium). It is always important to monitor your foal’s weight gain, and determine if they are gaining excessive body fat. In addition, observe their joints carefully. Swollen and perhaps painful joints may indicate too rapid of a growth rate. For long term soundness, this is important to avoid.Table 1. Expected weights of young horses predicted by their expected mature weight. Note: these values would be typical of foals gaining weight at a moderate rate of growth.

    Mature Weight (lbs) 4 month 6 month 8 month 10 month 12 month 14 month 16 month 18 month 20 month
    900 302 392 461 524 578 623 663 697 726
    1000 336 432 513 582 642 692 737 775 806
    1100 370 475 564 641 706 764 811 853 887
    1200 403 571 614 699 771 831 885 930 968
    1300 437 560 668 757 836 900 959 1004 1048
    How much will Junior eat?Intake in young horses is varied, and certainly will be different due to feed availability, palatability of the feed, and competition between herd members. However, on average, young horses will eat between 2 and 3% of their body weight on a dry matter basis. So let’s assume we are feeding a 4 month old foal who will mature to 1100 lbs 2.5% of its body weight per day. We will feed him a mixed grass and legume hay that contain 1.09% Ca and 0.35% P. Now, let’s see if we are meeting his Ca and P requirements.The foal is currently 370 lbs. If he consumes 2.5% of his body weight that will be 9.25 lbs of hay per day. Let’s convert now to kg, remembering to divide by 2.24. Thus the foal is eating 4.1 kg of hay per day. Calculating by the percentage of Ca and P, this hay will provide 45 grams of Ca per day and 14 grams of P. Need a review? Revisit Part 2 in our series of minerals for horses. Now look at your tables. Our foal is meeting his Ca requirements but is 12 grams short of P. So what should we do? This is a situation where concentrate feeding is clearly warranted. So let’s select a suitable feed for our baby and recalculate.

    We will adjust our feeding scheme to feeding our foal 1.5 % of his body wt as forage and 1% as concentrate. Feeding such a diet that s approximately 65% forage and 35% concentrate is fairly typical for young horses. Previously young horses were believed to need a much higher proportion of grains in the diet, but recent research has shed light on better strategies for feeding young horses. This diet will now provide 2.5 kg of hay and 1.7 kg of concentrate. The feed we select to use is designed for young horses and broodmares. It contains 1% Ca and 0.55% P. When we recalculate, this diet now provides 27 g of Ca and 9 g of P from the hay, and 17 g of Ca and 9 g of P from the concentrate. Added together, the foal is now receiving 44 g of Ca and 18 g of P. He is still a little bit shy in phosphorous, but I don’t want to add more grain to the diet. Alternatively, I could select a feed that provides slightly more P.

    I decide to use a select a new feed which contains a higher percentage P at 0.7% while the Ca content remains the same. All figures would remain the same with the exception of the P contribution from the new feed is 12 g of P. We have reached our goal of feeding our new guy a balanced ration (at least in terms of Ca and P)!

    Now, for the sake of argument, let’s try to formulate a new ration that relies on slightly less grain for our growing foal. We will feed 2 % of his body weight in hay, 0.5% in concentrate and add a mineral supplement. The mineral supplement I chose has a concentration of 13% Ca and 12% P. It is designed to be fed at the rate of 2-4 oz per day. We will feed our baby 2 oz of the supplement per day.

    Hay : 3.3 kg/day (2% of his body wt)
    3.3 kg x 1.09% = 36 g Ca
    3.3 kg x .35% = 12 g p

    Grain: 0.8 kg (0.5% of his body wt)
    0.8 kg x 1% = 8 g Ca
    0.8 kg x 0.55% = 4.4 g P

    Mineral supplement: 2 oz per day
    Note: There are 28.35 g per oz. Therefore this colt will receive 56.7 g of supplement
    56.7 g x 13% = 7.4 g Ca
    56.7 g x 12% = 6.8 g P

    All together the diet now provides 51 g of Ca and 23 g of P. This meets both his Ca and P requirements while allowing you to feed a more forage based diet. Now, which should you do? Well, that’s a topic for an entirely new discussion!

    Next month we will continue on with minerals, but discuss one of the most confusing, miscalculated minerals there is – selenium. Until then, happy horse feeding!


  • Minerals for Horses: Demystifying Selenium

     Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Selenium is an often talked about micro mineral which has much confusion over its requirements. Certainly those in the nutrition field don’t make it any easier by listing the requirements in concentrations in the diet, where all other minerals are simply listed as the amount the animal should consume per day.

    Selenium is an essential mineral that is integral to the enzyme glutathione peroxidase (GSH-PX). GSH Px is a powerful anti-oxidant which helps protect cell membranes, proteins and even DNA from reactive oxygen species such as peroxides, free radicals etc. The enzyme GSH-PX acts by donating an electron and thus reducing these reactive compounds. Less commonly known, Se also serves a role in thyroid metabolism. Selenium is a part of the enzyme thyroid hormone deiodenase, which serves to convert thyroxine (T4) to its more biologically active form, triiodothyronine (T3). Thus Se deficiency can play a secondary role in hypothyroidism.

    Selenium is also a confusing mineral because it is more or less of a problem depending on the area of the country you live in. Areas of the country which typically have higher Se concentration in the soil include South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, while the Great Lakes region, the Northwest and the Southeast are considered Se deficient. The more alkaline or basic the soil, the higher the concentration of Se in the plants that grow there. Dry conditions will also encourage the plant to uptake more selenium, which further increases the Se concentration. High selenium concentrations in the soil can be detected by the abundance of indicator plants, which include locoweed, milk vetch, woody aster and false goldenweed. During drought conditions horses will also be more likely to consume plants they may not eat normally. Therefore it is important to closely monitor pastures for horses during dry conditions.

    Se and your calculatorSo let’s talk numbers and get to the heart of the matter. The Food and Drug Administration regulates the amount of Se that can appear in swine, cattle and sheep feeds due to these animals typically entering the human food chain. For traditional livestock species, Se can only appear at a level of 0.3 mg/kg DM in complete feeds. That would be the concentration of the entire diet the animal consumes, not just the individual components. It is much more common in the livestock industry to feed complete rations or TMRs – total mixed rations. In horses, with the exception perhaps of complete feeds that many senior horses consume, we tend to feed forage with grains or some other type of supplement Even further, the total amount of Se beef cattle can consume per day is only 3 mg. This is according to Title 21, Part 573.920 in the Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations however, do not hold true of equine feeds.So what is actually the requirement of Se for the equine? Currently the recommendation to meet the horse’s nutritional requirements is to feed at 0.1 mg/kg or 1 mg/d. However, there is some evidence that feeding at rates of 3 mg/d may improve antibody status and overall immune function in the horse. No evidence exists that feeding at a rate of higher than 0.5 mg/kg in the total diet would be beneficial to the horse. Alternatively, there is also some pushback from environmentalists to reduce the level of Se in animal diets to only meet their requirement. They are encouraging the FDA to alter the current legal level of Se back to only 0.1mg/kg in the attempt to limit any Se accumulation in runoff etc. However, the contribution of Se from livestock feed is quite small compared to that produced through fuel combustion, industrial uses and leaching of selenificious rocks.

    When we look at complete feeds for horses they typically contain between 0.3 - 0.5 mg/kg or ppm. A quick scan across commercially available equine feeds reveals a typical concentration of 0.3 mg/kg with some feeds slightly higher. In comparison, the Feed Additive Directive in the European Community allows Se to appear maximally in a concentration of 0.5 mg/kg. So how much Se would a normal horse on a complete feed consume? Let’s use a 500 kg horse for simplicities sake (that would be 1100 lbs). Typically we would assume the horse can eat 2% of its body weight per day. At an intake of 10 kg per day of a feed which contains 0.3 mg/kg, the horse would consume 3 mg of Se per day. So clearly horses can tolerate this rate of consumption quite well.

    Signs of deficiency of Se in the horse general include disorders of the muscle or myopathies. This can include muscle weakness, gait abnormalities, respiratory distress and cardiac impairment. Foals born with a Se deficiency may have difficulty in nursing. Traditionally Se and/or Vit E deficiency disease is termed as white muscle disease. Numerically, serum Se less than 60 ng/ml or a GSH-Px concentration of less than 25 EU/dl can indicate a Se deficiency. However, these numbers are not indicative of a deficiency unless other clinical symptoms are present. Clearly much still remains to learn of Se metabolism.

    Toxic Se?But what is considered a toxic level of Se and why are we so concerned with Se toxicities? The upper safe margin for horses is suggested to be at 2 mg/kg. That is essentially a single decimal point in difference when calculating rations. Now using our same horse, and assuming he still eats 10 kg, the horse has now consumed 20 mg of Se. This is a much narrower margin of safety than any other nutrient we include in the diet. Now remember, that is the total concentration in the diet, not of individual ingredients. Symptoms of acute Se toxicity include blindness, head pressing, sweating, colic, increased heart and respiration rate and lethargy. Chronic Se toxicity caused hair loss, especially of the mane and tail, and changes in the hooves leading to soreness, including cracking of the hoof below the coronary band. Most are familiar with the recent story of the polo ponies who all died after receiving a Se injection from the team veterinarian. Ironically, anecdotal evidence already existed that administration of injectable Se and vit E may cause anaphylactic shock. This is probably due to the carrier agent used and not the concentration of Se or Vit E.The form Se is in may also play a role in toxicities. Se that appears within amino acids (such as would be found in plants) is much better absorbed and thus may reach toxic levels more quickly. In plants, Se is found in the form of selenocysteine, selenocystine or selenomethionine. Inorganic sources of Se include sodium selenite and sodium selinate. While some studies have reported no difference in bioavailability, (essentially the rate at which a substance enters the circulation) others indicate that selenium from yeast sources results in a greater detected increase in tissues and blood. While there is evidence on both sides, many have moved to using an organic source of Se in feed. Thus diets that contain Se in the form of Se yeast can’t have more than 0.3 mg/kg of Se in the total diet.

    Now let’s look at some feeds and determine their contribution of Se to the diet.

    A loose mineral supplement that contains 35 ppm of Se and is fed at 2 oz. per day compared.
    Or one which contains 15 ppm at 2 -3 oz per day.

    First, we need to know that 1 oz is equivalent to 28. 3 grams. If we feed our horse 2 oz. per day, that would be equal to 56.6 grams of supplement. If Se is listed in ppm or mg/kg, we simply convert units. There are 1000 grams in a kilogram, so our horse is eating 56.6 g/1000 g/kg or 0.0566 kg of supplement. Now multiply that by our Se concentration. In our first supplement, 35 mg/kg * 0.0566 = 1.9 mg of Se. That is right in the middle between the Se requirements for the horse and the higher level of intake that has been shown to have beneficial effects. The supplement which contains 15 ppm would provide between .8 and 1.3 mg of Se depending on if you fed 2 or 3 oz of the feed.

    So until next time, don’t panic about Se, now you know how to feed it correctly!


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